Home > Freight Glossary > Multimodal Shipping

In today's global marketplace, the efficiency of transporting goods from one point to another is paramount. Multimodal shipping stands out as a versatile and effective method for moving cargo using multiple forms of transportation, from sea freight to air and land transport. This method leverages the strengths of different transportation modalities to achieve faster delivery times, cost efficiency, and improved service quality.

What is multimodal shipping?

Multimodal shipping is the transportation of goods under a single contract but performed with at least two different means of transport. The service provider, or multimodal transport operator (MTO), is responsible for the entire carriage, despite it involving several modes of transport—by rail, sea, and road. This approach is distinct because it requires coordination among various shipping services to optimize the routes and methods used.

Types of multimodal shipping services

Multimodal shipping services can be divided into several categories based on the combinations of transport used:

  1. Sea-air service: Goods are shipped by ocean from one country to another and then transferred to an air freight to complete their journey. This method is often faster than solely using sea transport.
  1. Rail-road service: Combines rail transport for long-distance hauling and road transport for local delivery. This combination benefits from the efficiency of rail for longer distances while maintaining the flexibility of road transport.
  1. Sea-rail service: Utilizes sea transport for international shipping and rail for inland transportation, often used in large countries where goods need to be moved overland across great distances.

Difference between multimodal and intermodal transport

While both multimodal and intermodal shipping involve multiple transportation methods, they differ mainly in terms of contract structure and responsibility.

Intermodal transport

Involves transporting goods in an intermodal container using multiple modes of transport without handling the freight itself when changing modes. Each leg of the journey is covered by separate contracts, and each carrier is responsible only for its specific segment.

Multimodal transport

One single contract covers the entire journey, despite it involving multiple modes. The multimodal transport operator is responsible for the entire carriage, even though it involves different transportation methods. This gives the shipper the convenience of dealing with a single entity.

The Benefits of Multimodal Shipping

Multimodal shipping offers numerous advantages:

  • Streamlined logistics: Handling via a single contract simplifies the logistics involved, reducing the administrative burden on shippers.
  • Reduced costs: Optimizing routes and combining different modes can lead to more cost-effective shipping solutions.
  • Flexibility: Options to switch between transport modes in response to changes in market conditions or to avoid delays.
  • Increased reach: Access to more markets, as multimodal shipping can combine shipping methods that cover wider areas.
  • Environmental benefits: Often more sustainable, particularly when incorporating rail or sea freight, which are generally less polluting than air or road transport.



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